LA Tri Series Legends Triathlon

Men’s 55-59 Podium: 1st place Craig, 2nd place Tim Fier, 3rd place Steve Vasques

On October 15th I raced my final triathlon for 2017.  This was the LA Tri Series race at Bonelli Park in San Dimas.  We had a gorgeous day as the temperatures were in the 70’s at the start of my race and the 80’s by the time I was done.  I had a very good race as I won my age group so I ended the season on a high note.

The 1.5K (0.93 mile) swim was counterclockwise in a fresh water lake.  The biggest challenge was going to be a bit of glare from the sun in 1 direction.  Thankfully I had no problem with that.  The water was pretty warm, but we were able to wear wetsuits.  My swim time was 24:31, putting me in 2nd place by 0:22.

The bike course was 3 laps for a total of 21 miles.  I have done this race a number of times, but it always seems a bit different.  I think this year’s bike course was shorter than usual.  I was A-OK with that as my bike training has lacked for the previous couple of weeks.  The course is hilly and bumpy on some of the climbs.  My bike split was 1:09:41.  I believe this time also included both transitions.  I was still in 2nd place, but had lost some ground.  I was down by 2:51 going into the run.

The run course was 9.6K (5.95 miles).  I really enjoy it as 30% is on trails and it offers plenty of elevation changes.  I had a great run as my split was 38:14.  This was the best run by nearly 7 minutes so I was able to win by just over 4 minutes.  My finish time was 2:12:28.  I was 1st out of 15 men in the 55-59 age group and 10th out of 158 overall finishers.  I am pleased to say I did not get chicked, but I was only 45 seconds faster than the fastest woman so it was close.

It was a great day, but I made a mistake.  Last year at the finish line I enjoyed the delicious free lasagna.  This year I packed up my gear right after the race.  By the time I got back to the food, all that was left that appealed to me were peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.  I had 3.  It is possible that they did not have any lasagna this year, but I’ll never know.  One of the perks of being fast is first crack at the finish line food.  Oh well, you live and you learn.

To see my race photos, click on this link:

Living the life…


Posted in 2017, Triathlon | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

TCSD Conversation: October 2017 – Diane Ridgway

Diane and Don Ridgway

TCSD Conversation by Craig Zelent

I had the pleasure recently of talking triathlon with TCSD member Diane Ridgway.  Diane has accomplished a lot in her endurance career from ultramarathons to Ironman.  Diane recently won her age group at Ironman Wisconsin and is already qualified to race Ironman Hawaii in 2018.  I know you will enjoy getting to know Diane.

Craig: What sports did you participate in before triathlon?

Diane: It all started…  I admit it, I was a confirmed tomboy who constantly berated the fact that I was born too early—before they let girls play everything.  So, I participated in lots of park softball, basketball, volleyball and anything else I could get into.  Constant motion was my middle name.

Finally, in high school, I was allowed in sports.  I went to school at the International School Bangkok in Bangkok, Thailand where my father was stationed with the Navy for three years.  There I lettered in volleyball, basketball and most importantly track.  I ran all the distances (we only went up to the 800) and even ran hurdles once as no one else would.  My coach would ask us to run a mile warm-up and I would complain bitterly that I was a sprinter.  Years later when I was doing ultras I used to wish he could see me then.

Craig: When and how did your endurance career get off the ground?

Diane: I didn’t really get back into sports or running at all until a couple of months before my 30th birthday.  Working and raising 2 boys was my focus until then.  That is when Don and I got married and I had someone to help me.  He was a Navy SEAL so being in shape was his daily routine. I decided I would like to try running (as I couldn’t describe my body as baby fat any longer) and that running was something I could do early in the morning without taking time away from my family.  So early morning runs became the routine and other days I could run on my work lunch hour at a doctor’s office in Coronado.

Craig: What were some of the first races you did?

Diane: It took entering a race to decide I really liked running.  I did the Coronado Bridge 10K run in 1979 when it went from Coronado over the bridge and ended at Chuey’s restaurant in Chicano Park.  I had only run 3 miles until then.  At the 3 mile mark every step after was “now this is the furthest I have ever run”.  60 glorious minutes.  The same year I did a few other 10Ks and such and podiumed almost every time.  And a race junkie was born.

Advance to September of 1980 when the SEALs allowed some women to do the Superfrog, a Half Ironman they created to get SEALs ready for the Ironman in Hawaii.  I had never done a triathlon, but I had now been running for a year and a half and thought “Hey I know how to swim and bike why not try one?”  It was a new adventure that went well and I finished and definitely decided it was fun (except for that swimming part). The run is by far my favorite part.  Repeated the Superfrog in 1981 with Kathleen McCartney who went on to Ironman fame.  Little glitch that year when the water temp dropped to 52 and wetsuits were not allowed.  I got a severe case of hypothermia and had to be dragged to the SEAL team showers to spend 45 minutes thawing and unlocking my jaw. My support crew, Don, took me back to the transition. There I got on my bike and managed to actually catch up and pass some people and then pass more on the run.  Of the 52 entries, 37 had some degree of hypothermia.  Wetsuits were allowed the following year. As a side note, we heard that they had created a Diane Ridgway Guts and Glory Award. It was awarded each race to the racer who overcame the worst obstacle and still finished.   I was very proud to be as tough as some of our nation’s best at triathlon.  That particular award no longer exists.  I am so pleased that the Superfrog’s tremendous military flavor and support continues and expanded under the Ironman umbrella.  This is a credit to the original race director/participant Navy SEAL Moki Martin.

A couple of weeks later I did the Chuck’s Steakhouse Tri on Fiesta Island which at that time was in the format of run, bike, swim.  I really hated that and everyone and their brother passed me on the swim.  That particular race had Jeff and Scott Tinley 1st and 2nd.  So, I feel a part of triathlon’s early beginnings in San Diego.

A few months later we moved to Panama after 5 months in the Monterey Bay area where Don attended Spanish language school.  I got to attend also and used the rest of my time running.  What a great area to run in!  I have never since run in such a beautiful area.  I did my first marathon that year, the Salinas Valley Marathon, which Sally Edwards of early Ironman fame won.  I came in second with a 3:03 and enjoyed a huge banana split after. I had now been running for 3 years.

Panama was another great experience.  I joined the Isthmus Roadrunners, a local running team, and we put on quite a few runs and the first ever triathlon with my urging.  We swam in an inlet off the Panama Canal with the water so dark you couldn’t see anything including your hands, biked nearby and then a dirt road run.  We had people come from as far away as Columbia for the Primer Triatlon de Panama. Trophies were very expensive so I took some of mine and replaced the women runners with men and took off the plaques and presented them. It was very well received as people loved trophies.   I competed in the Marathon of the Americas for the two years we were there.  It was run on the Atlantic side and started at 330 AM due to the heat. It was totally, I mean totally dark.  Don rode his bike with a headlamp to show us the course.  You could see all the crabs scuttle out of the way and everyone jumped when a stick was spotted thinking it was a snake.

We moved to Virginia Beach for a couple of years after that and then to Honolulu for 7 years.  I kept doing running races and a rare triathlon. Getting to Hawaii in 1984 really stoked the triathlon juices though and everyone, of course, knew the Ironman.  I hoped to do it someday but wasn’t sure I could swim that far. The day after I qualified for my first Kona in 1989 (which was only 6 weeks before the race) I went down to the ocean to swim two miles to be sure I could do it in the cut-off time.  I was just finishing the bike portion when Mark Allen and Dave Scott were ending their run on the Queen K at the top of Pay and Save hill. That was inspiring but I just wanted them and all the media trucks out of the way so I could finish the biking. I successfully completed the race on minimal training and decided I definitely wanted to do it again someday when I had trained for it.  That didn’t happen until 1991 when I placed 3rd after exiting the water in 30th.  Swimming is still my weak part.

Craig: What advice would you share with someone who is sitting on the fence and has not jumped into endurance sports but wants to?

Diane: After a half marathon trail run in Colorado I had a guy point to my t-shirt and say “I would like to do that someday but I don’t think I can.”  I was wearing a Leadville 100 shirt, which for those of you who don’t know, is a 100 mile trail run around the mountains outside of Leadville, Colorado.  I told him, “well that is your first problem.  Don’t say I am not sure I can do that.  You can.”  Positive thinking is the most necessary aspect of endurance events, whether short or long.  He said that he worked full time and I said so did I. I agreed to meet with him and talk and he ran the race successfully the next year and the next, and the next…

The thing is, we are all busy, but if you really want something you can find time.  And it is never too late to start.  Remember I had never run until I was 30. I would love to see more women in older age groups especially.  During the time we lived in Colorado (we moved here 2 years ago) I was doing ultras and Ironman. I used to run 18 miles to work one day a week and had to leave my house at 330 AM to accomplish that.   But I needed the mileage and it was a way to get it aside from using time I could be spending with my family.

Craig: How have you involved your children and grandchildren in your sporting life?

Diane: Throughout my athletic career I have kept my family first and arranged training around their schedule.  Sometimes I drove them to this or that practice and ran while they were practicing or had them ride their bike along me running.  They needed little encouragement in sports and were playing soccer when they were 5 and 6.  That’s the norm now, but it wasn’t 40 years ago when soccer was in its infancy here. They participated in all the team sports and decided running was fun also especially when they began winning the under 12 division.  Then came the 13-19 year age group and they lost interest as they could not be competitive with a 19 year old.

As adults they have occasionally still participated in runs and I finally got to do the Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon with my oldest son, Burt.  That was really a thrill, though I didn’t see him again from the time we jumped off the boat until the end of the race.

We get together in other pursuits as well.  A thrill of a lifetime came this last June when my sons Burt, George and I summited Kilimanjaro together despite all the altitude sickness that we encountered.

Kids and grandkids have come to Kona to cheer over the years of competing there and the one who is not there is always tracking on the computer and calling to report when I should be at a certain spot as it is easier to track someone when you are not there.

Now in San Diego my two grandsons have both turned into runners. My oldest is competing in cross country for San Dieguito Academy.  We have two years in a row done the Children for Children 5K.  Three generations in the race! I am still looking for a triathlon we can do as a team. A team event is another way to get started and get your family involved. Don and I have done duathlons where he biked and I ran, for instance.

Craig: What athletic accomplishments are you most proud of?

Diane: What am I most proud of?  Really and truly, what I am most proud of is that I am still doing this athletic business and enjoying it and so is my family.  My mother would say,” Aren’t you getting a little old for that now?” but my boys say, “Oh boy we’re going to Hawaii again.” and my husband says, “that sounds like a fun race.”

Craig: What have been some of the most challenging races you have done?

Diane: Most challenging:  to me this can have two connotations, really difficult, and those that aren’t the hardest physically but there are contributing factors that make it more difficult mentally.  A couple of years that I did Kona I was also doing 100 mile trail races. I had Bob Bell ask one year which was harder.  Well, a 100 mile trail run is harder than the Ironman for two reasons.  It takes a lot longer and it is all running.  It is however easier to train for as it is only one discipline.

On the physical note, the Hardrock 100 in Colorado in the San Juan Mountains would have to be the hardest.  100.5 actual miles, 33,050 feet of climbing, average elevation over 11,000 ft and you go over thirteen passes between 12,000-13,000 ft and one 14er. River crossings, scree fields, boulder fields, sometimes snow fields and often hours without seeing anyone and just trying to find the trail markers.  You have 48 hours to complete it.  The race directors describe it as ”a graduate level challenge designed to provide extreme challenges in altitude, steepness and remoteness.”  It is run in a circle, clockwise one year and the reverse the next. I have done it each way.  The first year I took along a camera and kept telling myself it was an adventure run (I didn’t know how truthful that was!) At that time only 39% finished within 48 hours.  It took 42 hours running thru most of two nights and included falling asleep while running and hallucinating comic book covers in the bushes. Superheroes of course!  But it is the most beautiful run I have ever done; wildflowers, old mining claims to say nothing of the mountains.

Mentally, Kona 2014.  My knee gave out at the energy lab and I had to walk, run the rest of the way.  I was recovering from a bad bike crash in January of that year and had not been able to get in the amount of training necessary.  But, I started—so needed to finish.

Craig: What have been some of your favorite destination races?

Diane: Favorite destination races are usually because of the other opportunities around the venue.  Don and I joke that we find a place we would really like to visit and surely there must be a race near there.  That’s taken us to Ironman France where after the race we hopped on the train with only a backpack each and spent 5 days in Italy in the Cinque Terra region.  Ironman New Zealand where we toured the South Island and bungy jumped before the race and Powerman Zofingen where we got a train pass and traveled around Switzerland and into France for hiking and wine and cheese tasting after the race.  Mt. Tremblant for the 70.3 championships was another wonderful area to tour.

Craig: A couple of years ago you crashed at Ironman 70.3 Chile.  What happened and how badly were you hurt and how long did it take to recover?  Then you had back surgery last year and how long did it take to recover from that?  Why do you think you were able to recover so quickly?

Diane: In January of 2014 I had a bad bike wreck at the Ironman 70.3 Chile.  A lady getting her water bottle turned into me and I went straight down.  I had 11 rib fractures in 7 ribs so some were broken in 2 places and a broken collarbone and hematoma in my lung.  I was in the hospital in Chile for 8 days before they would reluctantly let me fly home and then went straight back into the hospital in Denver for another 7 days. I had my lung drained of blood twice (once before leaving Chile) and finally had to have surgery on it to scrape it out and then surgery on my collarbone. The hospital trauma team in Chile were impressed with my fitness and said this trauma called a “flail” chest is often associated with mortality in older people.  But then they couldn’t believe I was the age I was. The surgeons in the USA were super.  They were impressed with my fitness level and wanted to get me back into full competing mode and so recommended the lung surgery. But I was sidelined from everything for 3 months and then was allowed to gradually start doing things as pain permitted.  So, getting ready for Kona that October was a challenge.

But, then, as I was getting back into competing and feeling good my back started giving me trouble and I was having leg numbness and finally foot drop on the left.  Laminectomy and fusion was recommended for a severely crooked lumbar spine pinching off the nerve.  I did not want surgery and tried to hold it off with a couple of injections but finally couldn’t even walk a block.  The end of July 2016 I had a laminectomy and fusion of L4 and L5 and S1 with rods and pins.  They said I would need to wear a vest brace for 3 months and then could start running in 6 months and be ready to start really training in 9 months. Well, that was just not going to work at all. I started walking a lot and finally convinced the doctor to let me ride on the stationary bike as long as I wore the vest. I then pushed the envelope a little more and asked to be able to do spinning classes if I wore the vest and didn’t twist. Finally, he agreed to let me run the Turkey Trot which was 4 months after surgery.  My first running at all.  Whew, was that tough but I was determined to get back to my old self.  To make a long story short I competed in the Oceanside 70.3 and came in 2nd only 8 months after surgery.  I went on to climb Kilimanjaro in June and do Buffalo Springs 70.3 two weeks later, 11 months after surgery, and then Ironman Wisconsin.  I am my surgeon’s poster child.  I attribute most of the quick recovery to the fact I was in good physical shape before surgery and very determined to get back to “normal” after.  Once again, my adage of if you want something enough you will figure out a way.  Drawback to the surgery is less flexibility making me even worse at getting out of my wetsuit.  If only I wasn’t such a wimp and could just skin it!

We have heard lots of elite athletes talking about their comebacks and it is no different for the rest of us—determination and starting out with our bodies used to being challenged and fit. And we feel we know our bodies and what they are capable of.

Craig: What kinds of things do you and Don like to volunteer for and why do you like to volunteer?

Diane: I have always tried to volunteer where I could because it is my sport and my event whether it be running or triathlon or snowshoe racing or burro racing all of which are in my repertoire.  I feel we should all “pay back”.  Both my husband and I volunteer for various events and various portions of the events.  This past weekend it was an Xterra triathlon in Laguna Beach where we were in the transition area. Last year it was an aid station for the Superfrog that gave me a true insight into how hard those volunteers are working.  Three of us working an aid station everyone went through 7 times.  I was probably just as exhausted as the athletes by the end.

Please remember to thank them when you race and volunteer sometime yourself for the fun and satisfaction of doing something for your sport.

Craig: What are your favorite benefits of TCSD membership?

Diane: TCSD is the first time I have belonged to a Tri Club.  I enjoy the camaraderie and the meetings especially.  Just having all the others around to tap for ideas even if I don’t join many training events. No matter how long you have been competing there is something to learn.  I think it is especially beneficial for people just starting out.

Craig: What are some of the more humorous situations you have found yourself in during your athletic career?

Diane: Humorous situations.  Which one was funnier?  the rain storm that hit during the bike portion of the triathlon that created so much flooding in the transition area our gear floated around so we had to be running around looking for our running shoes.  Or was it the snowstorm that hit during another triathlon where our hands were so cold we couldn’t unfasten our chin straps on our helmet, nor feel our feet for the run.  Or the snowstorm that hit during a 50 mile trail run where the volunteers told you to” really fill your water bottles” since the water at the next aid station is frozen and the oranges and cookies looked so forlorn with their little covering of snow.  Or the 20 mile snowshoe race where the temperature was -15 with the wind chill and my water bottles froze so I was reduced to eating snow (not very hydrating).  Or maybe one of the years I did Alcatraz and the fog totally rolled in just as we started the swim so we couldn’t even see the shore.  Then the fog horns started and I was thinking “what am I doing?” Or finishing a race and starting the sprint to pass one last person to the finish to find it had been moved 400 yards further away than the previous year.  Or a burro race my burro wasn’t really into and kept pushing off the trail into a ditch.

In my case, the more ridiculous the conditions get the more humorous I find them since you might as well laugh because it is better than crying.

Craig: Who has been the most supportive people or person in your life?

Diane: There is no question that it has been my husband Don.  From encouraging me in the beginning, to being by my side pushing me to be the best I can and doing whatever is in his power to make that happen.  When I really started getting addicted (yes, this is the correct word) to the training and the lifestyle he continued to be supportive.  If he had not, I would not have been able to follow my dreams because I think it would have affected our family negatively.  Though he does not do the training, except biking with me often, he knows that I need to do the training for racing and he loves to go to the races.  He is my bike mechanic and packs it up if we have to fly, and will be anywhere along a course to cheer me that he can reach.  During my ultra-career, this sometimes involved racing over dirt roads all times of the day and night to get to a drop station with my gear.  He would spend a couple of hours getting there and then I would be through in 5 minutes or so.  When I have been injured he has been there to help me through the rehab process whether with words or his laid-back presence. He is the first to try and hold me back to follow doctor’s orders, but also the first to admit that I might not listen. Spectators and other athletes at events have said that I have the best “athletic supporter” there is and he fully deserves the title.  We are Team Ridgway.

Craig: What are your future goals as an athlete?

Diane: Most immediate goal is doing well in Kona in 2018 in my new age group.

There are lots or races out there I have not tried, Challenge Roth being one, as that would be another destination race with good vacationing opportunities.  I’d like to learn how to mountain bike so I can do an Xterra.   And I would like to be part of a group that encourages and supports others getting into the sports of running or triathlon.  I feel I have a few tips I could pass on though I could never coach like you, Craig, just pass on some of the things that worked for me.  But not being technology inclined I just say they are tips.

I love to race and am always open for suggestions and love new challenges.  So Challenge Roth might be next or maybe Machu Pichu or…

Craig: Diane, thank you for sharing your story.  I am proud to be friends with you and Don.  TCSD is lucky to have you among our members.  Good luck to you in Kona next year and beyond.

Craig Zelent is a USA Triathlon Level 1 Certified Coach.  Craig can be reached at 760-214-0055 or

Posted in 2017, Marathon, Running Race, TCSD Conversation, Triathlon | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

ITU Triathlon World Championships – Rotterdam

Craig & Laurie (WINNAAR) showing off finisher medals.

Dutch girl Laurie and Dutch boy Craig should get a room!

Enjoying the windmills.

On September 17th I raced the ITU Triathlon World Championships in Rotterdam.  This was the 23rd race where I have represented Team USA in a World Championship over my career.  I am very proud of that accomplishment and very thankful for all those international opportunities.

We arrived to good weather in Rotterdam on the 13th, but then it was wet 95% of the time thru the 16th.  The rain really stressed me out because I knew the bike course was narrow, had some cobbles and had a lot of turns.  The bike course would be a nightmare if it was wet.  I can think of about 8 different World Championships that I’ve raced in where it rained leading right up to the event, but on race day the weather was great.  Thankfully due to the power of prayer, God blessed me once again in Rotterdam with clear skies and 68 degrees on race day.  Amen!

The 1.5K (0.93 mile) swim was held in Rijnhaven Harbor.  The water temperature was 60 degrees so it was brisk, but manageable.  The harbor was very calm so it was just like swimming in a lake.  I swam pretty well as my time was 24:33 which put me in 17th place.  We had a very long run (0.6 miles) to transition.  I covered that ground pretty fast, but there were a lot of cobbles so it was hard on the feet.  I made the bad decision in T1 to put on a jacket for the bike and this cost me some time.  My T1 time was 6:05 – 62nd best or not so good.  It was warm enough that I did not need that jacket.  Skipping it would have given me a good T1 time.  Ugh!

The bike course was 2 loops for a total of 23.6 miles.  Holland is one of the flattest places on Earth and Rotterdam is no different.  The only hills were on the bridge crossings.  We went over the beautiful Erasmus Bridge twice.  Holland is known for its gorgeous architecture and this is illustrated by the Erasmus Bridge which I think looks like a harp.  I was timid on the bike.  The road conditions were ideal, but I was never comfortable.  My skills on the bike are fairly limited and that was apparent on a flat, technical course with so many turns.  There was 1 section we had to do twice that was on a steep temporary ramp built over some stairs with a very sharp turn right after you came back down the ramp – I still can’t believe that!  My bike split was only 1:13:35 which was 97th best (really not good) and it dropped me down to 73rd place.

The run course was 2 loops for a total of 5.67 miles in Westerkade Park.  For as much as I disliked the bike course, I loved the run course.  75% was on trails and it was much better for spectators than the bike course.  I ran very well; probably because I was so motivated after my poor bike to do whatever I could to minimize my embarrassment.  I had the 2nd fastest run split on the day with a time of 36:24.  My finish time was 2:22:47.  I placed 41st out of 111 in the men’s 55-59 age group and I was the 7th out of 14 Americans.  I am very pleased to say that American Lee Walther placed 1st as he edged out a British guy by 3 seconds.  My good friends Kyle Welch and Steve Wade placed 4th and 51st, respectively.

To see my race pictures, click on this link

At the same time I was racing, my wife Laurie was running her 245th marathon – the Bikse Natuurmarathon.  Laurie was the overall female winner and her prize was a tech t-shirt that says “WINNAAR” across the chest.  I think it is so cool!  She is the only woman on the planet with that shirt.  Her greatest challenge was returning the rental car after the race.  It took her 2 hours to find the correct garage, even with gps.

After Rotterdam we went to Amsterdam to be tourists where we really enjoyed ourselves.  On one day we took a 5 hour tour that encompassed a windmill tour, cheese factory tour, wooden shoe factory tour and a boat trip.  On the next day we toured the Rembrandt house, Anne Frank house, Van Gogh Museum and took a canal boat cruise.  We were both especially moved by the Anne Frank house.  It is amazing to think that 8 people hid from the Nazi’s for 2 years in that tiny 500 square foot space.  Personally setting foot in the Secret Annex and trying to minimize the sounds of your foot steps just as the 8 did was very sobering.

Living the life…

Posted in 2017, Marathon, Triathlon | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Ironman 70.3 World Championships – Chattanooga

Dale and Mimi Esworthy with Craig in Franklin, TN.

Craig on the run!

Craig and Lisa Switzer at the finish line.

On September 10th I raced the Ironman 70.3 World Championships in Chattanooga, TN.  Doing this race had been a goal of mine for nearly 2 years as I knew it would offer me a chance to see some of my best friends, Dale and Mimi Esworthy.  I flew into Nashville on the 7th and had a great visit with Dale and Mimi.  They put me up in their house, fed me 3 terrific meals, and hooked me up with a guest pass to do a masters swim at their YMCA, but then I had to be on my way to Chattanooga.

Once in Chattanooga I continued to have a great time with other San Diego based friends and a friend from Atlanta.  I had a couple meals with Mark Ford and his wife Tish Taylor.  I also had dinner with Mike Drury and Troy Cundari made a late appearance.  Lisa Switzer is a friend from Atlanta who came up to the race to train on the course and cheer on some friends.  Lisa gave me lots of course specific information and was a great cheerleader for me during the race.

One of the unique aspects to this race was that the women would race on Saturday and the men would race on Sunday.  I missed racing with the ladies, but I think they were thrilled not to have to deal with the men.  Both days offered the same conditions – sunny with temperatures in the mid 80’s.  Over 3,800 athletes raced from over 90 countries. 

The 1.2 mile swim was in the Tennessee River.  They don’t allow wetsuits if the water temperature is over 78 degrees.  It was 76-77 degrees so wetsuits were just barely allowed.  They had a rolling start within each age group.  That means 10 of us would jump into the water every 3 seconds.  The water was really warm.  I could tell right away that I better just cruise the swim so I would not over heat.  Because of the heat, I did start to get a mild calf cramp in the final 100 meters.  I managed it just fine, but it caused me to limp a bit for my first few steps on dry land.  The swim would be the least of my challenges for the day.  My swim split was 33:57 (1:45/100 meters), putting me in 22nd place.

The 56 mile bike course featured 3,400 feet of climbing.  It was a scenic tour of Tennessee and even a small part of Georgia.  Too bad I did not have time to savor it!  The toughest part was the first 8 miles as we climbed up to Lookout Mountain.  I felt great on the climb, but felt pretty tired for the rest of the challenging course.  I did the best I could, though.  I managed a 2:55:50 bike split (19.1 mph).  This was the 114th best time and it dropped me into 83rd place.   

The 13.1 mile run course was comprised of 2 laps along the Riverfront Parkway.  The run course also had some hills as the elevation gain was 975 feet.  It was very scenic and perfect for spectators.  I had a solid run as my split was 1:38:55 (7:33/mile).  This was the 11th best run time and it moved me up to finish 42nd out of 157 men in the 55-59 age group.  I finished in 1,494th place out of 2,380 male finishers with a time of 5:18:02.  This race course was World Championships worthy and the competition was great so I am satisfied with my result.

Troy and Mark placed 26th and 33rd, respectively in the men’s 55-59.  Mike placed 164th in the men’s 45-49.   

To see my race photos, click on this link:

Living the life…   

Posted in 2017, Triathlon | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

TCSD Conversation: September 2017 – John Healy

John Healy finishing the 1983 Ironman World Championships in Kona

TCSD Conversation by Craig Zelent

I had the great pleasure recently to sit down and talk triathlon with one of the TCSD’s earliest members, John Healy.  John has been racing triathlons since the earth started to cool.  He has seen it all.  I know you will enjoy getting to know this triathlon pioneer.

Craig: What sports did participate in before triathlon?

John: I grew in a suburb of Boston, where families were big and everyone played sports outside every day—hockey, baseball, basketball, football.  No adults were involved—just kids.  I ran sprints and played baseball in high school.  An enlarging benign spine bone tumor began to press on my lower spinal cord in 11th grade and precluded contact sports and made baseball too painful.  This was treated later with radiation and by age 20 I was pain free.

I started playing 4 wall handball at the end of college at Holy Cross and really got into it at the University of Vermont where I went to medical school.  It was perfect for me.  I had a strong arm and great speed.  Most importantly it only took an hour to play, and I was always pressed for time.  My opponents we were usually very athletic and very strong willed, but great guys off the court.  I managed to win handball championships at Vermont, Stanford and at Navy and Marine Corps tournaments.  But, in big venues, i.e. San Diego, I was just another adequate player.  Handball was my favorite and most strenuous sport, but degenerative spinal issues made me give it up after 32 years at 52.

We had cold ocean water, very few pools, and polio scares in Massachusetts.  I was not much of a swimmer until teenage years when my friends and I started to swim in the nearby Quincy granite quarries (which was an illegal and forbidden activity).  We believed the old tales that the quarries were bottomless and that “truck drivers” would bring their girl friends there and swim naked at lunchtime (never happened, but made the quarries exciting for 14 year olds).  I never could have done competitive swimming but became skilled enough to be hired by Cape Cod National Seashore as a lifeguard.

Craig: What chain of events led to you trying your hand with multi-sports?

John: An acute attack of back spasms during a Sierra backpacking trip in terrible weather led to ocean swimming being the only activity I could do in August, 1979.  I saw an announcement for the 50th annual Labor Day swim in Oceanside and decided to do it.  After the race Tom Warren, the owner of Tug’s Tavern in Pacific Beach and the hero of the classic Sport’s Illustrated story about the 1979 Ironman race on Oahu, was passing out entries to his upcoming Tug’s Swim-Run-Swim race—1/4 mile fun-1/2 mile swim around crystal pier in Pacific Beach , 5 ½ mile run, then another ½ mile swim around the pier.  I had been in great shape since 1966, but was incredulous that anyone could do an event of that magnitude and length.  There were about 300 entrants.

Craig: You are one of triathlon’s pioneers.  What were some of the local triathlons that you did in the early days and what were they like?

John: After Tug’s, I got on the mailing list for the few triathlons existent in the 80’s—Chuck’s, Del Mar days, and Carlsbad and in 1983, the USTS Series at Torrey Pines and later the Koz races.

A lot of us would use our children’s bikes the first few years.  Training would be a few weeks of swimming and a few bike rides around the neighborhood.

Del Mar Days triathlon (spelled Triathalon) started as a discontinuous event –10k run on the beach, then an hour later a one mile swim in a very cold ocean against a current resulting in a massive hypothermia (no wetsuits)–then later an ill-advised bike race in the wet, curvy streets in the Del Mar hills.  That was the first time I realized that bikers had toe clips.  Another year a bike race was going on at the same time and on the same course as the triathlon.  I had never seen at peloton before and when I saw it catching up to me I was terrified and my mental terror, I believe, made my chain come off!

Chuck’s was a tremendous race on Fiesta Island starting with a 10k run, then a 12 mile bike followed by a 1 ¼ mile swim.

Those early races were followed by band music and big, unlimited beer gardens and had 200 entrants.  Most of us changed clothes in the open between events.  Unfortunately, both races ended when lawsuits were filed after relatively mild bike injuries.  The races were a labor of love and were discontinued because of the lawsuits, even though I believe the lawsuits were not successful.

Carlsbad originally had a mile swim and 10k run with the same 16 mile bike as today’s event.  Many of the early triathletes came from a swimming background as the long cold swims were a real challenge for “regular people”.

Craig: What led you to race the 1983 Ironman World Championships in Kona?

John: In 1982 my wife and I went to Kona for a medical meeting.  By sheer coincidence we happened to land during the actual Ironman race.  The Queen K Road was not closed for the race and we had a long very slow drive in the middle of the race into Kailua.  We watched most of finishers and they looked beaten up on Alii drive. My memory is that they looked “haunted”, constantly looking over their shoulder to see if anyone was catching them.

I had probably done 10 triathlons by then, but with pretty casual training—mostly handball, skiing and running—very little swimming and biking—but a little more every year.  By the mid-1980’s it was 6 months handball and skiing, six months, April to October triathlon.

That day watching the Ironman convinced me that the race was madness and that I would never be interested in doing it.

But, that night we went on a “Captain Beans” dinner cruise (the original boat used for the Ironman swim turnaround).  Many free Mai Tais later, while sailing on Kailua Bay, somewhat illogically, I decided I would do the Ironman in 1983.  The next day, outside the only hotel (the only building) at Waikoloa in those days, I began training for my one and only marathon.

I trained for 5 ½ months for the 1983 Ironman.  It was very exciting, like a science project, I was running 13 miles every other day.  I got injured after running the America’s Finest City half and missed two weeks of running and got quite a scare!  In early August I took a vacation to Maui with a bunch of families and did not bike 2 weeks, but ran the half marathons every other day and swam 90 minutes each day.  Otherwise training and racing went fine.

The whole Kona experience was a gas.  It was incredibly exciting.  In those days, not everyone there was a gifted athlete.  But everyone was trained and super motivated and there were a lot of real unique individuals.  Most had made a real sacrifice to be there.  They had psychiatrists present to give a seminar to the spouses that had both suffered and supported the athletes’ training through their one dimensional quest.  There were a lot of repeat contestants.  I think I might have been among the first thousand ironmen.

The race day itself was another matter.  It is still the windiest day in Ironman history.  I saw people blown to a complete stop and even blown off their bikes.  Many had to stand up on their pedals most of the way to Hawi, some walked.  Only about 830 out of nearly 1000 starters were able to complete the race, the lowest percentage of finishers ever.  Aerobars and clip-in pedals had not yet been invented and the average bike in the race was said to cost $350, about what I paid for my Univega Grand Premio at Zummatti’s.  I can’t remember if helmets were mandatory but most of us wore the old Skidlid helmets that offered very little protection, kind of like a hairnet.

Craig: You’ve completed nearly 400 triathlons in your career, what are some of your favorite destination races?

John: With a growing and active family and a demanding profession I swore off Ironman races but returned to Kona twice for Half Ironmans in my sixties.  In 2002 I had a chance to do “Ironman Revisited” in Oahu with 40 unique companions.  The event caught my attention because I had watched the videos of the original Oahu Ironman race over and over while preparing for 1983.  Training was limited for the August 2002 event because I had fractured my tibia skiing in late January.  I swam for 4 months, biked for 3 months, but only was able to run 50 miles before the event, although I aqua jogged a lot.  We had to supply our own support crew who drove along with us just like the original three Oahu races and supply all our needs.  The event was well organized and a real thrill.  My orthopedist told me not to run more than two hours, so I alternated running and walking.

I should write a separate article about my 1980’s Alcatraz races.  In the 1980’s no wetsuits were allowed, a 15 mile run through Muir Woods to Stinson Beach and then return back to Mill Valley over hills as high as 1360 feet and starting and finishing with 672 slick wooden and stone steps (the height of a fifty story building).  No directional buoys for the swim—once the race started I saw just two other swimmers.  We had to memorize the San Francisco skyline and “never get to the right of the tall apartment building” in order to not miss Aquatic Park and get carried west on the outgoing Tide!  They had a permit for 300 racers , but had fewer than a hundred enter.  The bike went over the Golden Gate Bridge to Mill Valley.  Looking down at Alcatraz after just swimming from it was a real thrill.  I had trainied by swimming in Del Mar until I got really really cold and confused and by taking cold showers.

Craig: What is your favorite benefit of your TCSD membership?

John: One of my favorite benefits is the races the TCSD puts on.  I fondly remember two unusual TCSD club races.  The first was the “Jellyfish Triathlon” at Fiesta Island.  After a vote was taken, we had the race.  Every stroke I took I had a jellyfish in my hand and I was glad to have a bathing cap.  Fortunately,they were nonstinging.

The “Cowpie Triathlon” was at a ranch near Ramona.  We swam multiple laps in a small pond, then biked and ran among dozens of cows and thousands of cowpies.  A great party and cookout followed and all finishers were awarded a dried cowpie on a necklace. Some club members camped out overnight. I got home very late and very tired.  When I went to get in bed, I recalled that our swim had been in a BROWN pond-brown because of cowpies. I hurriedly showered after putting 2 plus 2 together.

Craig:  I remember doing both of those epic TCSD races.  Triathlon has been a family affair for you.  How has your family been involved in our sport?

John: My wife and three children have all done at least one triathlon.  I signed up early for one of the Optimist’s Coronado Triathlons when my two oldest kids were about ten and twelve.  That year the race was Bike-Run-Swim.  Your start position was determined by the date of your entry and my kids were in the front row with all the super aggressive adults behind them.  I worried they would be biked over.

One of my great strategies during the years that the optimist race was formatted as a run 1.2 miles, bike 4, swim ¼ mile was to wear my bike helmet on the run.  I beat a good friend three years in a row by a few seconds.  He would always make fun of my helmet on the run—but never figured out that not having to put the helmet on when my pulse was probably 200 was my whole margin of victory over him.

For my 50th birthday my daughter swam from Alcatraz with me.

I have been blessed with a great family.  Three children and eight grandchildren ages 5 to 17, all living nearby.  My son John and son-in-law Brandon have done very well in Triathlon.  Everyone else in involved in sports.

Craig: I’m thinking that with all your race experiences you have probably seen some pretty goofy things over the years.  What have been some of the classics?

John: I could swim and run faster than a friend, but he was a much faster cyclist.  He was one of the first to get the original Quintana Roo wetsuit.  When he beat me out of the water, I could see that I needed a wetsuit also.  They were hard to find at first—you had to “know a guy who knew a guy” to get one.  I had a connection and got one at Bike Fever in Del Mar.  The next race I beat my friend out of the water with my new wetsuit.  However, I put on my helmet and bike shoes and started to mount my bike before I realized that I had forgotten to take off my wetsuit.

I did two races, one in Coronado and one in Ensenada, that had no bike turnaround marked and everyone turned around at different places, then they realized what was (not) happening.

The only drafting legal race I have done was in Huntington Beach.   I was in a pack of 5 riders after taking two turns at the front, they told me not to lead anymore because I was going too slow; so I hung in the back and enjoyed the ride.  At that same Huntington Beach event, big surf took off my goggles and pulled my Speedo right off—I saved my Speedo with one ankle to prevent a nude finish to my swim.

Craig: What have you done for a living?

John: I am a Neuroradiologist.  I trained at the San Diego Naval Hospital and Stanford.  I also had the opportunity to take a six month Navy course in Aerospace medicine (including flight instruction) in Pensacola and spent two years as a flight surgeon with the Marines.  I spent most of my career at U.C.S.D. and the VA and had the opportunity to train a few hundred Radiology trainees.  I also persuaded about ten of them to do a triathlon.

Craig: Who has been the most influential person in your life?

John: The biggest influence of me is definitely my wife of 50 years, Barbara, a physical therapist and a real miracle.  She is a very independent, friendly and social person.  She has broadened my horizons tremendously.  I had several friends that I usually beat by a minute or less.  I had to warn her to stop being so friendly and giving away my secrets of victory i.e. don’t wear socks, don’t sit down to put on shoes, use lace locks instead to tying shoes, etc.

Craig: What are your future triathlon goals?

John: Future goal?  I have raced almost 800 events, mostly multisport.  I have raced almost 400 miles swimming, 6700 miles biking and over 2300 running.  Almost everyone my age has quit.  I think a lot of them are just embarrassed how slow they have become—and so am I!  I have a lot of arthritis everywhere and some serious medical problems and have been slow for quite a while.  Every Spring I decide if I will continue.  I love training in San Diego.  Because I have been so busy, I have done almost all my training by myself, so have missed some of the great social aspects of the sport.  I do fewer events every year, but will probably continue to do my favorites.

Craig: John, thank you so much for sharing your story.  Triathlon has definitely kept you young.  I think you have at least another 800 events in you.  We are lucky to have you in our club!

Craig Zelent is a USA Triathlon Level 1 Certified Coach.  Craig can be reached at 760-214-0055 or

Posted in 2017, Half Marathon, TCSD Conversation, Triathlon | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

TCSD Conversation: August 2017 – Hiro Iwamoto

Guide Rich Anderson and Hiro Iwamoto ready to race Strongman Miyakojima.

TCSD Conversation by Craig Zelent

I had the pleasure recently of talking triathlon with TCSD member Hiro Iwamoto.  Hiro has led an amazing life.  His story is sure to inspire you when you face your next challenge.  I am so glad I had the chance to get to know him and I know you will feel the same way once you hear his story.

Craig: When did you lose your sight and what was the cause?

Hiro: I was born in Kumamoto, Japan, and during elementary school, like many other boys I wanted to be a professional baseball player. So I would always play baseball with my friends after school. Then when I was 13 I realized I was losing my sight for the first time as I was playing baseball with my friends.  I could not catch the ball because I could not see it.  Everyone on my team started blaming me when we lost a game.  But even in that kind of situation, I could not tell them that I couldn’t see.  I did not want them to know that I was losing my sight.

After a while, I started bumping into things as I was walking.  My parents took me to every eye doctor they could think of, but none of the doctors could figure out the cause of my blindness.  This meant that there was no treatment, no cure for my sight loss.

Craig: How did you adjust to life without sight?

Hiro: I was so scared, and I felt hopeless when I thought about my future.  I wondered how my future was going to be.  When I could not even put toothpaste on my toothbrush, I did not want to deal with my blindness anymore.  I did not want to go on living asking for help all the time.

On August 13th, 1982, it was a very hot day, the sun was shining, and a lot of cicadas were making sound, as I headed to a bridge in my hometown of Ushibuka to commit suicide, to terminate my life.

When I got there, I took off my shoes and put both my hands and right foot on the rail, but could not pull myself up over the rail, I tried again and again, but could not go over the rail. It’s not that I didn’t have enough strength to jump, but it felt like some unknown force was preventing me from jumping.

After struggling for a while, I got so tired since I could not sleep at all the night before.  I decided to take a nap on a bench in a park nearby.  During the nap, I had a dream and received a message from my uncle who had died 5 years before and he said to me “You have to live, do not end your own life. You became blind for a purpose. You became blind so you can encourage and inspire people who have lost meaning in their lives. I want you to keep pressing on and experience how wonderful life can be.”

My uncle loved me so much as he would have adopted me if he didn’t have cancer.  I gave up jumping off from the bridge and went back to my house.  I returned to find that things were still the same, I still spilled toothpaste on my hand, spilled Miso soup on my lap, hit my head on the corner of my desk, etc.  However, even in my daily struggles, I never thought about suicide again, because the message from my uncle was kept in a small part of my brain, and telling me that there is a meaning for all of this.  Slowly but surely, I started to gain confidence and courage.

Craig: What sports did you do after losing your sight?

Hiro: After I became totally blind at 16, I wanted to find a sport in which I could compete equally with the sighted, so I began Judo. The first training I had to do was to lay on my back on the tatami mat and hit the mat with my arms.  This was to train my reflex after being thrown by an opponent. I had to do this same training for a couple months and I started become bored and almost quit. But this experience taught me the importance of Kata, or form/discipline, in sports. And there was an incident where my Judo training helped my a great deal. In my early twenties, I was in San Francisco studying special education at San Francisco State. One day I was walking in downtown SF near Poway Station, and a pickpocket took my wallet and started running. Thanks to my Judo training, I was able to instinctively grab his shirt and do a Osotogari (threw him down on the ground), and handed him over to the police who happened to be near. For your own safety, you should not try to rob a blind guy.

Craig: What prompted your move to the USA?

Hiro: After returning from San Francisco State, I didn’t want to lose my English so I began attending an English class. My English teacher introduced me to her friend Karen, who would become my wife. She and I would go hiking along with classmates and the teacher from the English class and we grew closer as we got to know each other more. We eventually began dating and got married on May of 1996. Sorry, I am a traditional Japanese male so I don’t remember much of the details…I hope my wife is not reading this.

After getting married, we lived in Chiba prefecture, and there was a yacht harbor close to our home called Inage yacht harbor. On our evening walk we found a rental yacht shop. Karen was already an experienced sailor as she had been competing in races from middle to high school. Although I had no prior sailing experience, we decided to rent a yacht and give it a shot together. This was how I started sailing.

In 2005 our daughter Leena was born, and my wife and I began to discuss whether staying in Japan or moving to the States would be the best for our daughter. After we weighed the advantages and disadvantages of the two countries, we decided that that it was best for our daughter to move to the States. So in 2006 we moved to San Diego.

Craig: What happened during the challenge you began on June 16, 2013?

Hiro: As a blind sailor, I began dreaming of sailing across the Pacific, the biggest ocean in the world, sailing from Japan to America with one other sighted person.  I started sharing about my dream and passion everywhere I would go, and that helped lead me to the right people and eventually I was sponsored.

Mr. Shinbo who is a newscaster for Yomiuri TV in Japan offered to be my sailing partner for my challenge, and Yomiuri TV company and other companies became our sponsors.  I didn’t expect that my dream would come true so quickly.

About three thousand people including many Tsunami survivors came to the port to cheer us on, and a Japanese Olympic female marathon runner, Kyu-chan (Naoko Takahashi), who won gold in the Sydney Olympics, came as a guest and we received her handmade bento lunch, etc.  I was so happy.  I had never felt as excited in my life as I was that moment when we left the port of Onahama in Fukushima.

It was my idea to leave from Onahama port in Fukushima because I wanted to encourage the people there and be encouraged by them.  We asked the people living there to write a letter to their family members and friends whose lives were lost in the Tsunami, and we planned to read the letters before putting them into the ocean.  I was hoping that writing a letter would help them release their hardship, stress, and recover from their grief.

On the sixth day around 7:20 in the morning, I heard something bumping on our boat three times, boom, boom, boom, Mr. Shinbo asked if those were waves hitting our boat, and I answered I don’t think so.

When I heard the sound and felt the boat shake, I thought we had a collision with a whale.  I took two gallons of water from the bottom and the emergency bag which contained a satellite phone, GPS and a VHF radio. Our team made a distress call to the Japanese Coast Guard. We then abandoned our boat and went overboard on our life raft amid 15 foot waves and 30 knot winds. At the time of the collision, we were already 700 miles out in the ocean and there was also a typhoon heading over our direction.

Since the Coast Guard couldn’t get to us in time to rescue us from the storm and we were out of range of a helicopter, they dispatched the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF). The JMSDF sent out a US-2 rescue aircraft (ShinMaywa US-2), but the first US-2 could not make a landing because of the high waves (the maximum height of waves it could land on is 10ft) and they were running out of fuel so after they circled over us trying to make a landing, they had to retreat. We felt hopeless and terrified when that first aircraft faded into the distance. Then 3 hours later, a second US-2 came. The pilot risked a dangerous landing to save us, and we were rescued after being stranded for 11 hours in the middle of the ocean.

A press conference was held right after we were rescued and we arrived at Atsugi base, and a reporter asked me what I thought our boat bumped into.  I believe I received a sixth sense in exchange for my sight loss and by then I knew it was a whale that hit our boat.  Later we had experts confirm through the video left on one of our onboard cameras (we took out the SD card before we abandoned ship) that it was indeed a blue whale, approximately 50 foot big.

Six days before this incident when we sailed out from Fukushima, I was at the highest point of my life, but within seconds I went straight down to a low point, in front of about 100 media people.  I heard people say and was even told directly that it was a stupid plan for a totally blind person to try to sail across the Pacific.  For a while I couldn’t see the purpose for this collision but before long I realized that this setback will make my future success 100 times even 1000 times bigger.

The more I thought about these facts, the more I was thankful for just being alive.  I also took the meaning of this event this way, God gave me a challenge to see if I could recover from this frightful experience, similar to what the Tsunami victims experienced.  Ever since I found the meaning of the collision, I have been thankful for what happened.  I started saying the same things I have heard from people who were going through their difficulties after the natural disaster in Fukushima and Kumamoto which is “I am thankful for just being alive, everything else is not a big deal.”

Craig: After your near death experience, it makes sense that you would have a legitimate fear of water.  What have you done to overcome that fear?

Hiro: When I was searching for a way to overcome my fear of the ocean, DJ Rausa whom I met through the San Diego Business Group recommended triathlon. He offered to be my guide and not long after that we began training together.

The most difficult part for me was swimming in the ocean. When I’m practicing at the pool I could feel along the lane rope and make sure that I’m going straight, and I could guess the distance from the wall by counting my strokes. But this is not possible in the ocean. So we use a rubber tube about 4 feet long and tie it around our waist. I have to figure out which direction my guide is going by the tension of the tube. I’m swimming to DJ’s right, so if the tension of the tube loosens, it means I’m leaning too far to the left, so I have to adjust my position to the right. If the tension tightens, I have to adjust to the left.

When we’re on the bike or running, I can communicate easily with my guide, but in the water I cannot see, hear, or speak. When I was starting out, sometimes I panicked as I worried what will happen if the tube connecting us suddenly broke off. Every 2 or 3 strokes I would raise my head and check if DJ was still next to me, so we barely moved forward. This went on for a while but slowly I got used to it and in October 2014, I finished my first race at the Mission Bay Triathlon. I still clearly remember that excitement I felt when I reached the goal.

Craig: You have raced 10 triathlons in your career which stretches from the 2014 Mission Bay Triathlon to the 2017 Oceanside 70.3 and Strongman Miyakojima in Japan.  What triathlon accomplishments give you the most pride?

Hiro: In April of 2016 I joined the Blind Stokers Club (BSC) which provided many training opportunities to work on my cycling. At one event I was able to ride for 50 miles for the first time. I thought to myself, “if I could ride 6 more miles, it would be the same distance as a Half Ironman”, and that boosted my confidence and lit a fire inside of me to keep challenging. From then I began training for the Chula Vista Challenge Half Iron Triathlon that was in August. I also competed in the San Diego International Triathlon (SDIT) and the Carlsbad Triathlon as I prepared for the Chula Vista Challenge.

SDIT was the first time I did a floating start, so just keeping afloat was a struggle for me and I used up most of my energy before the race even began. It was also difficult for me to keep facing the same direction while floating, so I was anxious and kept on asking my guide if I was facing the right direction. A couple of minutes after the race began, the next wave of swimmers approached from behind us and they probably didn’t notice that I was blind and tethered to my guide, so they kicked my head and grabbed my shoulder as they tried to get past us, and at that point I felt like giving up, but somehow I was able to get back in focus and finish the race.

The Carlsbad Triathlon was my first ocean swim experience. No matter how hard I swam, the waves kept pushing me back, and the fact that the waves were keeping me from moving forward exhausted me both physically and mentally. But my guides Rich Anderson and Patsie Dephney cheered me on and I was able to complete the swim.

Less than a month away from the Chula Vista Challenge, I found out that Rich was competing in Ironman Boulder. The race was a week before the CVC and I was concerned about Rich’s physical condition, so I felt the need to find another guide. My other guide DJ had a back injury so he was not available and I wasn’t able to find anyone through BSC. I was worried that despite all the training I did, I would not be able to compete in the race. For us blind triathletes, no matter how much we are prepared and want to compete in a race, it is not possible without a guide. I was feeling a little down when I went to a friend’s house party where I happened to meet Greg Smeltzer. I told Greg my desire to compete in the CVC and begged him to be by guide. He kindly accepted, and although we only had time to train together twice, we were able to enter the race. I couldn’t believe that he had only two prior experiences as a guide as he was so calm and stable the whole time we were practicing.

The weather was very hot on the day of the race and while running I began to get so nauseous that I almost threw up and couldn’t even swallow the nutrition gel, but with Greg’s help I was able to finish the race. Usually after I finish a race, I would immediately head over to the beer tent, but that day I didn’t have any energy left so I went home exhausted and sank into my bed. During the race, as I was running and feeling nauseous, I said to myself, “why did I even get into this agonizing sport” and was getting mad at myself. I even thought I would never do triathlon again. But a couple of days later, as I reflected on the joy of reaching the goal that day, I began to think that if I could complete a half, maybe I could take the next step and challenge a longer distance.

Before long, I had registered to compete at the All Japan Triathlon Miyakojima (also known as Strongman Miyakojima, Swim 1.9mi, Bike 98mi, Run 26.2mi) in April 2017, which is the most popular race in Japan, and the upcoming Ironman Arizona in November 2017.

Also as part of my training for the race in Miyakojima, I signed up for Ironman 70.3 Oceanside. For me, the heart crushing uphill ride that everyone was talking about was the most difficult part of the race. I had been practicing on the hills in Torrey Pines, but the hill on this course was much steeper. No matter how hard we pedaled, our speed would not go up but instead our legs were becoming sore and our speed kept slowing down. If we were to stop, it would have been impossible to pedal out again because of the steepness of the hill, so we would have to walk our bike to the top. There were actually some racers around us who were doing this. But we were able to keep pedaling and by the time we made it to the top my legs were shaking and I was worried if I could even run. As we began running, I could barely move my feet forward and didn’t think I could keep running for 13 miles, but after we passed 3 miles I began feeling lighter and we were able to make it to the goal. This was the first time I competed in an official Ironman event, so I was overwhelmed by the energy of all the participants and the big crowd that was cheering us on, and the excitement I felt when I finished the race was even greater than the previous races I’ve been in. Many people saw me during the race and afterwards told me that seeing me compete gave them inspiration and encouragement, that they were moved to see me. As I heard from these people I remembered the voice I heard when I was 16 and tried to kill myself, the voice that told me to keep living to give hope to others, and the people that day helped me realize that the message I lived by for all these years had come true and was being fulfilled.

Along with my guides Rich and Patsie, I departed from LAX to Japan to get there a week before The Miyakojima Triathlon. I thought we would need to spend at least a week to get used to the humid climate and get rid of the jet lag.

We arrived and saw that all over the island of Miyakojima, there were posters with the name of the race “STRONGMAN” (a title given to everyone who finishes the race) written on it, and you could tell that this event was special for the people of the Miyakojima and the whole island was involved in the event. I realized that I had made the right decision in getting there early when we began training on the first day we arrived, as the hot and humid weather sapped us of our energy much more quickly than the mild climate of San Diego. I became nervous as I wondered what the weather would be like on the day of the race. There was another thing that I was concerned about. The Miyakojima Triathlon is known for its tradition of beginning with a mass wave start instead of a regular wave start. This means that all 1500 participants begin swimming at once. Even with a regular wave start people would kick and climb over me from behind, so I was very worried that all these people would be swimming around me.

On the day of the race, at the sound of a horn everyone began going into the water one by one. Rich and I started on the outer edge close to the front. The race began and just as I expected, I could barely move with all the people around me. People began climbing over the rubber tube that tethered me and my guide, some of them shoved me down and I swallowed some seawater, and we were almost pushed out of the swimming course. We would be disqualified if we swam off course, so we moved inward to the center, but there it was even more difficult to swim. Then suddenly something slammed my face real hard. It seemed to have been someone’s heel. My lip started bleeding. With the taste of blood in my mouth, I kept crawling slowly and tried my best to move forward. After we passed the 400 meter mark the course began to widen and I was finally able to swim freely. At that point another concern came to mind and that was to finish the swim before the 1 hour 50 minute time limit. We sped up as we tried to regain the time we lost. We came all the way from the States so I didn’t want us to disqualify at the swim stage. We were able to finish the swim 5 minutes before the time limit.

Although the distance of the swimming and cycling stage is a little shorter than a full Ironman, the time limit for this 126 mile race is 13 hours and 30 minutes, which is 3 hours and 30 minutes less than a full Ironman. With the time limit in mind, we pedaled as fast as we could. The wind was strong and there were a lot of uphills and downhills, also we had to add air to our front tire near the 10km mark, but we were able to finish the cycling stage.

Then we transitioned to the running stage, but the course was inland so there was no wind and the climate was so hot and humid. And about 20km in my guide started to get sick. Although he kept running for me about 10km more, we had to stop around 30km so unfortunately we did not quite finish.

For me, triathlon is similar to sailing across the Pacific as they both represent life itself. Sometimes we can cruise along easily while other times we struggle to barely move forward, and after a period of pain comes a period of joy. I think that’s why I’ve been able to continue doing triathlon and not give up on my sailing challenge across the Pacific. And in case you were wondering, I’m training for Ironman Arizona in November of this year.

Craig: What qualities make up a good guide for a blind triathlete?

Hiro: I’ve heard that a guide should be at least 15-20% faster than you are. My times are 50 minutes for a 1.2 mile swim, 3.5 hours for a 56 mile bike, and 2.5 hours for a 13 mile run.  I think a good guide needs to give an accurate description of the surroundings during the race. He or she also needs to run/swim/bike at the same pace. Someone that could help you reach your full potential. Currently my main guides are Rich Anderson and Greg Smeltzer. I would describe Rich as a completer and Greg as a competitor. Rich is focused on finishing the race. He taught me the importance of taking each stroke, pedal, or step one at a time until you reach the goal. Greg is focused on getting the best time possible. He has taught me to push my own limits to achieve the best results.

Craig: I spoke with your guides Greg and Rich and asked them what their experience been like to serve as your guide?

Greg: I would say my initial reluctance stemmed from not being strong or fast enough. After speaking again with Hiro we determined that I was 20% (I think this is the formula he uses to determine) faster than what he was pacing at so we would be fine. He was training for Chula Vista Challenge and had Rich as a guide, but Rich had done Ironman Boulder and was not going to be recovered enough to guide. Hiro asked me and we had just two weeks to prepare. We met for a swim and that went well, no problems tethered. We went on I think one or two bike rides and same for running. We completed the race with no issues although the many turns on that course and the sidewalk run did almost take us out a few times. When we finished though, the feeling was incomparable to any race I had done before. We went to a development camp for blind athletes a few months later and I think one of the most important things I took away was that we as guides are a tool for the athlete, like a pair of shoes or bike. Like many people have multiple pairs of shoes or different bikes for different runs and rides, a blind athlete will benefit greatly from being able to access multiple guides for different workouts.

We are now training for Ironman Arizona and we try to meet 3-4 times in one week, alternating weeks.  I have gained a whole new perspective on triathlon, and life by guiding and would recommend others trying as well.

Rich:  When I joined the San Diego blind stokers club I wanted to obviously be able to captain someone that needed help to enjoy a hobby/activity that they loved. In the back of my mind I was really hoping that I would be able to meet someone visually impaired that wanted to try a triathlon. After only a few months as a member I was introduced to Hiro. He was very excited about the idea of doing triathlons regularly and the training involved. I could have not asked for a better person to be paired with. Not only did he keep us on a regular training schedule, he was an engaging training partner. Hiro was always pushing us, talking all the time and after a while one starts to forget that he is blind. It was amazing to watch how someone with no vision was really so independent. I will always remember the races that we did and the cheers we got. I am a middle to back of the pack triathlete with little fanfare, but guiding Hiro thru races was so much fun to be next to him receiving such loud cheers and encouragement. The icing on the cake was the times I would get to guide him up onto the podium to get his medal for placing in the Challenged athlete division.

Craig: How can people contact you if they would like to learn more about guiding you?

Hiro: Right now I’m trying to connect with as many guides as possible. The reason for this is that having only one or two guides puts a lot of pressure/burden on the guide. Having more guides would lighten the burden for the individual guides. It’s also better to have more guides in case my current guide gets injured or are not able to race for some other reason. Also if possible, I’m looking not only for guides but also for rides, for people that could provide transportation. The best way to reach me is through email at

Craig: What are some of the funny things that happen around a blind guy in a triathlon?

Hiro: When people ask me how a blind guy like me can ride a bike, I would tell them that I ride in front of the tandem and steer while my guide tells me which direction to go. Most people actually believe me and don’t realize that it’s a joke.

Another thing I do on the bike is whenever my legs become heavy while pedaling, I ask the other racers around me if my guide is really pedaling, and they would get in on the joke and tell me “no, he’s not!”

Sometimes when I tell my guide I don’t think I can go any further, he would tell me that there is a beautiful woman in front of us so we should just follow her. Then somehow I would regain my energy.

Craig: What are your favorite benefits of being a TCSD member?

Hiro: I am amazed at the great community that the TCSD has for its members. I’ve received so much motivation and encouragement from the people I met through TCSD.

I wouldn’t have been able to reach the level I am at right now without all the training programs that the TCSD provides including track workouts, master swim, Del Mar open water swim, and the monthly Aquathlon. I think I would have been way behind if I were just training on my own. I greatly appreciate all the coaches and organizers of TCSD for helping me out and providing these resources.

Craig: What do you do for a living?

Hiro: I practice a therapy based on acupuncture and oriental medicine that I invented called Shishijutsu. My office is located in Kearny Mesa and I see all kinds of clients with conditions ranging from sports injuries to insomnia.

In my work as a life coach, I give speeches and one on one coaching sessions based on my own experience of overcoming my disability. I travel several times a year to Japan to give speeches and seminars. I’m planning to expand my work as a life coach here in the States as well. Please feel free to contact me if you or your organization are interested.

Craig: What are your future triathlon goals?

Hiro: I have been training for the Ironman Arizona 140.6 full triathlon this November.

Also my dream is to compete in the Ironman World Championship in Kona.

Craig: Hiro, thank you so much for telling us your story.  Your fan club just got a lot bigger.  The entire TCSD will be cheering for you to complete Ironman Arizona and to one day cross the finish line in Kona.  It is people like you that make the TCSD the best club on the planet!

Craig Zelent is a USA Triathlon Level 1 Certified Coach.  Craig can be reached at 760-214-0055 or

Posted in 2017, TCSD Conversation, Triathlon | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

USA Triathlon Age Group National Championships

Craig Zelent volunteering with Holly Stroschine (left) and Anne Rogers (right)

7th place men’s 55-59 age group

On August 12th I raced the USA Triathlon Age Group National Championships in Omaha, NE.  My pie in the sky goal was to place top 10 in my age group and get on the podium.  The podium goes 10 deep at Nationals.  I was thrilled with my result as I placed 7th out of 102 men in the 55-59 age group.  This ties my best performance at the Olympic distance Nationals as I was also 7th back in 2002.

My trip to Omaha started by volunteering at the packet pick up on Friday morning.  I was joined by my TCSD friends Holly Stroschine and Anne Rogers.  It is always good to give back to the sport by volunteering. 

The 1.5K (0.93 mile) swim was held in Carter Lake.  The water temperature was 80 degrees so no wetsuits would be allowed.  For safety reasons, they won’t let you wear a wetsuit if the water temperature is over 78.  I’m not the greatest swimmer in the world and the wetsuit would help me, but I took the non wetsuit swim as good news.  I figured I could put some time on the weaker swimmers that wetsuits would have really helped.  The air temperature peaked out during my race in the upper 70’s so it was very comfortable racing conditions.  I swam 27:57, putting me in 20th place.  I was 52 seconds slower than in 2016, but I felt I had a really good swim.

The 40K (24.8 mile) bike course was an out and back.  There was 1 hard climb on the way out that required 1st gear for ¼ mile.  The uphill grade on that section on the way back was a bit longer, but not nearly as steep.  I had a very solid bike performance as my split was 1:10:12 (21.2 mph).  This was 13 seconds better than 2016.  It was the 48th best bike split and it dropped me to 28th place.  I felt great and was very much in control of my race.

They changed the run course for 2017.  The 2016 version was 1 out and back for the entire 10K (6.2 miles).  The 2017 version was 2 out and backs.  2017 was much better as we had more opportunity to gauge our competitors and it seemed like there were twice as many spectators.  By the 2K mark I remember seeing 1 of the guys in my age group walking back.  He was 1 of the top athletes in our age group and he had a 10+ minute lead on me to start the run, but he was now injured and out of the race.  It reminded me how tricky it can be to get thru all the training and the actual race in 1 piece.  Triathlon can be very humbling.  I kept pushing on as aggressively as possible.  I had the best run of my triathlon career, relative to my age group.  My run split was 37:18 (6:01/mile) and fastest in the age group by 2:33.  My finish time was 2:20:05.  And I did qualify for the 2018 Olympic distance World Championships in Gold Coast, Australia.  I can’t wait to represent Team USA once again. 

I am thankful for each race – the good ones and the bad ones.  I wish I was a better swimmer and cyclist, but I gratefully accept the skills that I do have.  God has really blessed me.

To see my pictures from this race, click on this link:

Living the life…

Craig Zelent  

Posted in 2017, Triathlon | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

All American Sprint Finish

I just got this photo from the 2016 ITU Triathlon World Championships in Cozumel last year.  This was my sprint finish with fellow American Clint Dowd.  I ran into Clint 2 weeks ago at Nationals and he had this photo for me.  I had no idea the photo existed.  Clint and I both had the exact same finish time, but he edged me out with a better lean at the end.  My run split for the 10K was 42:19 while Clint’s was 44:55.  I made the mistake of catching him with about 100 meters to go.  That woke the beast and we had this epic sprint to the line.  Clint said his heart rate peaked at 191 at the finish line.  I’m sure mine was in the same neighborhood.

We both had good races.  Clint finished 16th and I was 17th in the men’s 50-54 age group.  I always want to win.  I wish I could do that race over again.  I would have passed Clint much later to give him no chance to answer.  Oh well.  But that’s not the point.  The point is this is such a cool photo – both carrying American flags and both leaving it all on the race course.  I love moments like that.

Living the life…

Posted in 2016, Triathlon | Tagged , , , , , , | 6 Comments

TCSD Conversation: July 2017 – Ian Kelly

Ian finishing Vineman 70.3

TCSD Conversation by Craig Zelent

I had the real pleasure of talking triathlon with Ian Kelly.  Not only did I get to know this great guy in the process, but I learned some funny new words.  Among other things, Ian leads the TCSD Beginning Open Water Swim workouts as well as serves as a race referee.  I know you’ll enjoy his story.

Craig: What sports did you participate in while growing up?

Ian: I never really thought of myself as an ‘athletic’ type, and often had the experience of being the last one picked (being either the weird or uncoordinated kid, relative to who else was around) when the neighbourhood was dividing up for touch football in the street. From elementary school through high school I played soccer. I proved too slow to be a striker, and mediocre at mid-field, but eventually discovered strengths at fullback, and then really had a blast as keeper. I was working toward the varsity team at school, but about that time the Scottish part of me took over. My mom had taught me ballroom dancing from early childhood (often standing on her feet until I figured things out) and in my sophomore year I was introduced to Highland dancing, sort of Gaelic frenzy contained within the niceties of ballet. I was hooked and quickly discovered that under my strongly B-type personality lurks a competitive A-type. I managed to have a successful eight-year competitive career that ended with me doing well in the US Western Regional Championships. The last few years of that were years at UCSD, where I briefly took up fencing (foil). With my dancing background, the footwork was easy for me, and opponents were often shocked to discover how much space I could cover in a flash. Once that initial shock wore off, however, they realised that my blade-work was an unmitigated disaster and they rapidly ticked off points against me. In dancing, I was driven to keep progressing into nationals and (hopefully) worlds, but the years of joint-pounding took a toll and the morning after my last event, I could scarcely get out of bed; not a positive sign for a 23-year old. Dancing is as close to flying that a human will ever attain, and I am not too proud to admit that I cried over that loss. I transitioned into being a cycling weekend warrior (and not very dedicated at that) and that was pretty much my joint-friendly athletic outlet for early adulthood.

Craig: What led to your first triathlon and what kind of experience did you have?

Ian: I was the poster-child for what not to do for training and racing. In mid-2005, my post-graduate studies meant that just about the only activity I had time for was a Saturday morning spin class. About 40-minutes into the class we would all be tired and hoping vaguely for an early end and a hot caffeinated beverage. The leader would then start this inspirational patter about how the only difference between us and endurance athletes was our mental focus. ‘Balderdash,’ I thought, because surely there must be a point at which your body determines where to make an end. I went to my physician for a check-up and demanded a series of knee x-rays to see just how bad the knees looked. Ah, the joys of youth; my joints had relatively normalised and I was otherwise in fair shape. I resolved to enter the most impossible feat I could imagine: a sprint triathlon. The gym had a copy of Competitor magazine in which I found an advert for the Mission Bay Tri. I went online and found an eight-week sprint training program; perfect timing for the race in early October. The cycling aspect was no worry for me. I had learned to swim as a kid (though in retrospect, I knew how not to drown) so felt naively confident that I just needed to get used to the distance. In high school, I had managed a sub-6:30 mile run. Suppressing the memories of countless, drudging laps around a hot, dusty track was going to take work, and to keep going for a whole 5k seemed impossible.

I started off on my training plan, completely on my own. I had never heard of TCSD, and the experience would have been a thousand times easier had I had the support and comradery that I discovered with the Club in 2008, but that’s getting ahead of the story. Cycling was certainly the easiest for me, and most enjoyable though the concept of actual ‘bike handling skills’ had not dawned on me at that point. My run workouts consisted of a treadmill at the gym, and I remember the real joy of finally hitting three miles without stopping. Brick workouts were not written into the plan, and so I had no real notion of how my legs were going to react after T2. Swimming turned into the real struggle. I could make two lengths of the pool (50m total), but then I was finished. Not knowing what else to do, I maintained a program of thrashing the water harder and harder. I became highly efficient at thrashing, but not so much at swimming. And then came the whole ‘open water’ issue. A friend loaned me her husband’s spring surf suit, which I took down to De Anza Cove twice with mixed results.

Come race day, I was vaguely excited about getting down to the expo to pick up my registration packet, and I wanted to listen in to the course talk to figure out how all this ‘racing’ stuff happens. During the talk, the question of wetsuits came up and spring suits, in particular. The expert advice was not comforting, so I dashed over to the Xterra booth and hired a blue full suit for the weekend. On race morning, once I had my transition area laid out like they had showed at the expo, I figured it was time to get into my wetsuit for the first time. As I picked it up and finally looked at it more closely, I realised it was inside out! So much for it being easy for the friend who had come along to pick me out of the sea of black! As I walked toward the water, I watched the waves ahead of me out in the water for quite some time before the gun went off. I had no idea how I was going to tread water for that long! Just swimming that distance was daunting, but then to be exhausted before I even started seemed to doom the morning. I toughed it out, made it into the water, and was surprised to find myself floating instead of treading water. Problem one sorted out. When the gun went off, I duly started thrashing the water, but something was wrong; I could not breath right. My feet were way high up in the water and that pushed my face deeper into the water. After flailing for an eternity that turned out to be about 50m, I rolled onto my back, and used my elementary backstroke for the next 350m. Crude but effective. Problem two sorted out! The bike portion did go smoothly enough, though who knew that pulling a cycling jersey over my wet torso would take so long? Getting on to the run course was simple enough, but then my legs suddenly seemed to be made of concrete and took a considerable amount of coaxing to keep moving. It took a mile or so to work the kinks out, but out they went and I was ecstatic to cross the finish line. It had been a major challenge for me, and I completed it the weekend before my 40th birthday. I could not tell you the finish time. Honestly, it did not matter to me. I had proven the point: it’s all in your head. That central lesson forms the nexus of everything, even today. My friend wisely suggested that I not try that again until I had graduated, so I took leave of triathlon for a few years.

Craig: You returned to triathlon after completing your PhD.  Open water swimming was a major challenge for you.  What did you do to address that?

Ian: When I was ready to get back to triathlon in January 2008, shades of the Mission Bay swim still haunted me, and I knew that I needed to sort out my swimming. I needed a proper wetsuit and I needed to stop thrashing my way through the water. In doing some research, I discovered that this group called TCSD offered phenomenal wetsuit discounts, so I joined and hied myself to Xterra.  (“hied” is one of Ian’s funny words that means “hurried” or “rushed”.)

The newsgroup let me know about the swimming program at the Jewish Community Centre, and so I began at attend the ‘technique lanes’ in about February 2008. The notion that swimming could be smooth and even calming came like a thunder bolt. In a relatively short time, I was covering 400 yards each session without too much effort. Then came 25 April with the news that Dave Martin had been killed off Fletcher Cove (Solana Beach). That really freaked me out, as I had registered for the Spring Sprint just a week or two later. Back in the open water in a wetsuit I really had not trained with and thoughts of Dave created another ‘challenged’ swim portion.

The newsgroup made mention of a Thursday evening swim oriented to beginners. Steve Tally started this off and subsequently handed it off to Jonathan ‘JJ’ Jefferson, who was leading it when I first attended. I let JJ know right off the bat that I was a pretty freaked out, and his advice on the question of big fishies did help. He suggested going out into the bay to swim, and envision the biggest set of teeth imaginable coming up from the depths to get me. That was the last thing I wanted to think about, but…he was the expert, right? Out I went and did as he said. I am not sure that I would offer the same advice, but the fact is that the thought has not crossed my mind since then. With the mental side of things resolved, notions from Terry Laughlin’s books, JCC swims, and JJ helped me to develop a strong, fluid stroke that, when I push, can keep me moving at about 1:10 per 100m. The entire experience, stroke, and philosophy really came home to me one evening at a TCSD meeting where Lynne Cox, a world-record holding endurance swimmer, talked about how one must swim with the water, not in it.

The Thursday BOWS (Beginner Open Water Swim) became something of a home to me. JJ was a firm believer in keeping things moving forward, growing, and adapting, so he intended to establish a pattern of having BOWS leaders serve for two years and then hand off to someone else. Bobbie Solomon took over as coordinator for BOWS after JJ, and when her two years were completed it came my turn. I tried handing off at the end of two years, but my relief needed to leave the sport. JJ returned to BOWS leadership, despite having been diagnosed with widely-spread cancer, and had several of us working in support but ultimately found that he was unable to keep with it. In the year that followed, we modified the structure, expanding things so that while one person might manage the administrative side of things, a group—primarily Chip Slack, Bob Cunningham, Phil Castaldi, and Yours Truly—works together on Thursdays, covering absences and providing a wider range of strengths, teaching styles, etc. I have been extremely proud of the work our BOWS swimmers do and it is an honour to be with them on their journey to the joys of open water swimming. I also appreciate how Xterra has stepped in to sponsor Thursday BOWS this year.

Craig: What are your favorite memories of JJ the instructor and JJ the person?

Ian: The pool time at the JCC had certainly helped the mechanics of my swimming, but the time I spent with JJ turned me into a swimmer, and a pretty good one, if I say it myself. The water temperature did not seem to matter to him; he was never in a wetsuit for BOWS. His style was calm and gentle, though he certainly taught assertive techniques for racing. I am not able to pin-point specific memories of that season beyond his advice about big fishies (those who know me will recognise my incapacity for recalling virtually anything), but the overall spirit JJ the Instructor provided was confidence in the water. I wish I had known him better as a person, but the gentleness and willingness to engage with anyone was infectious. In his closing years, he took up beekeeping and offered bottles of the best raw honey I have ever encountered. It inspired me to try peanut butter and honey sandwiches for very long rides, and I cursed loudly that I had not bought enough of it to carry me through the races at Madison. Beekeeping struck me as a perfectly natural thing for him to be involved with. When I first heard about his cancer diagnosis, I knew that, if I had heard correctly, we would be enjoying his company for a limited time. Even so, he asked about returning to BOWS to carry on his love for open water. The amount of effort it took him just to walk from the parking lot told us everything we needed to know about the steely determination that lay behind his smile and laughter. In my line of work, I see people who allow a diagnosis to define who and what they are. I think that JJ would have said ‘I have cancer, so I will bend it around me and live as I am, not as my diagnosis.’ He passed away on 2 February 2015, and I am eternally grateful for the graceful gift of open water swimming he gave me. Swim in peace, buddy.

Craig: You are also a triathlon referee. What is the process to become a referee?

Ian: To become a USAT official, you attend a training session the day before a race and then participate as a ‘Category 5’ official at that race the next day. These experiences teach basic triathlon rules and reporting procedures. Provided you get the basics down correctly, you are immediately upgraded to ‘Category 4,’ and volunteer to work during at least two additional races. Again presuming that your reporting practices, knowledge of the rules, and interpersonal communication skills fit the requirements, an official can advance to Category 3 and begins to receive compensation for officiating. There are Category 2 and 1 officials, though I have yet to sort out incentives to advance into these levels.

USAT had the youth/junior nationals at Liberty Station in 2010, and they needed local volunteers to help with officiating the races. I joined as a volunteer official that year, and again when the same event was held in Chula Vista in 2011. At the time, it was a way to do something to support the event, but then I realised that there is a facet of racing that I had not considered before. I began the USAT certification process with the first Orangeman Triathlon (Dana Point, 2011), and typically work two or three local races each year. In 2012, I volunteered to work the Oceanside race as bike course marshall, which has a somewhat more limited role than a USAT official. Since then, I have become part of the ‘San Diego Team’ of Ironman officials working races throughout the western US. I am looking forward to being part of the officials’ team at the Ironman 70.3 World Championships in September. One of the great aspects of working as an official is the opportunity to see a wider variety of courses than we see just in San Diego. I have had the opportunity to preview some races, putting some on the ‘need to do’ list (e.g., Vineman) and scratching some off (e.g., IM Lake Tahoe).

Craig: Have you had any particularly challenging issues to deal with as a referee?

Ian: I am regularly astonished at the number of athletes who train to swim, bike, and run, but are totally clueless about how to race. There are athlete guides and pre-race meetings for a reason. I must confess they are usually guys in my age group, and predictably riding a specific bike frame, who just put their head down and go as fast as they can, cluelessly leaving a trail of destruction behind them. When they get penalised for doing something stupid, they invariably whine about how someone else made them do it, or they didn’t know it wasn’t allowed, or a one-minute penalty really makes them reconsider whether they ought to race any more. My advice is for them to get over themselves. This is not about working out parental issues or proving their value as a human being. This is a race. Races have rules to keep athletes safe and support a fair field of play. Know the rules. Follow the rules. You’ll have a great day.

Craig: You completed Ironman Wisconsin in 2015. What was that journey like for you?

Ian: For as much as triathlon is an individual sport (don’t get me started about draft legal events), Wisconsin really reinforced the value of mutual support along the way, and I count myself beyond fortunate to have found world-class support through TCSD.

Wisconsin was a longer journey than I had expected. I spent much of 2014 training for the race, and was graced with Brooke Skora as a training partner. We had some great times in training, as well as days when it just was not working, and were excited to get there. I got some debris in my goggles during the swim and ended up with a scratched cornea. My vision progressively worsened on the bike course to the point that it was unsafe for me to continue and I withdrew half way through. I was able to get out of the hospital soon enough to watch Tina Valle and Brooke finish and celebrate. I have a rather wide stubborn streak in me, and I figure that if I started something, I was going to finish, and so registered to return in 2015.

Training for a full distance race takes over your life, and if I am honest I did not prepare as well for 2015 as I did in 2014. Unable to rouse myself out of bed for those crack-of-dawn training sessions, I worked a full day, then spent my evenings working out. Saturdays were long ride days, and Sundays were long run days. There were gorgeous swims, bikes, and even runs, sometimes in the company of supportive TCSDers. As I entered my taper (a week and a half, as opposed to the three weeks in 2014), I was fully confident that the race was in the bag, as long as I avoided another injury, and the only question was the finish time. Liz Sibley, now my sweetheart, agreed to make the trip with me and was the best Sherpa ever.

Race day held spectacular racing conditions. I was one of the first people into the water and was where I wanted to be just as the sun rose over the hills and Aaron Copeland’s ‘Fanfare for the Common Man’ (one of my favourite pieces of music) boomed out over the lake. I turned to face the sun, closed my eyes, prayed, and just drank in the beauty of the moment. As the music ended, I heard another athlete call out to me, ‘dude! You are the calmest person here today!’ Madison is one of the few races left with a mass start, and at the gun, it’s nothing but knees and elbows for the first 500m. At the first turn, it’s a tradition for athletes to salute Wisconsin’s dairy heritage by mooooooo-ing. My swim of 1:16 was far slower than I had wanted (it should have been ten minutes faster), but I had not trained as well as I ought and it still fit well into the overall plan for the day. Coming out of the water is the first real indication of the level of spectator support and involvement that covers the race course. From the water’s edge, you run up a parking structure ramp (‘the helix’) which is lined by thousands of friends, family, and curious on-lookers. In 2014, I had a cycling jersey custom made in tribute to my regiment, The Gordon Highlanders, and in 2015 I put it on again, this time confident that it would see me all the way along the course.

The bike course is a bit like getting nibbled to death by ducks. It comprises a series of climbs (85 or so summits in 110 miles) that individually are undaunting, but in total will wear you down unless you are mindful about your riding; the hot shots who blow through IMAZ would die in Madison. All along the course, families turn out in front of their homes—often creating their own party with blasting music—to cheer you on. There is an infamous series of three long climbs which is as close to the Tour de France as I am ever going to experience. At the bottom was a group of four or five college student variously costumed as demons and devils. As I passed by, a young woman smacked me on the butt with her plastic pitch fork and called out, ‘welcome to hell!’ Further up the climb, thousands (if not tens of thousands) of spectators line the street, cheering, encouraging, and generally carousing. If that fails to motivate you, nothing will. There was a young woman who I kept going back and forth with on the course, and somewhere around mile 80 I saw her in the distance stopped on the roadside with a flat tire. As I approached, I asked if she was OK, and she said she did not know how to change her tire. I stopped and changed her tire while we talked for a bit about how the day was going. With that done, she took off, I took off, and I do not recall seeing her after that, but it was fun hearing someone else’s story. You will have guessed by now that I do not possess a laser-like focus on racing; it is the racing experience that really catches my attention. As I returned to the transition area, I was chuffed to have that portion of the race done with everything going exactly to schedule, and to see my Sherpa cheering like a crazy person.  (“chuffed” is another funny Ian word meaning “pleased”.)

The run is perhaps the most challenging part of any race for me, and Madison was doubly so. With my insufficient brick training, my legs were just not having the run portion. I adopted the motto ‘run when you can, walk when you must.’ Unfortunately, there was a lot of walking going on. Much to my delight, Brooke appeared in the crowd at about mile 7 and really picked up my spirits. She moved along the course at several points to find me, and get me through that troubled phase of the race. Madison is a two-lap course with the turn to the second lap only about 100m from the finish line; having to turn and head back out is perhaps one of the most mentally crushing experiences. Fortunately, Liz was there with a bright smile and loud cheers. I had to admit to her that the run was not going well, and that I would miss my aspiration of a less than 14-hour race. With her gentle reassurances, I made my way back out. (Little did I know that the smile was all about her plans to head directly to the Irish pub around the corner to settle down to a very well-deserved whiskey!)

Although I have watched an IM finish line countless times and heard Mike Reilly welcome racers in, it takes on a whole different meaning when it is for you. I developed a tunnel-vision where I knew there was music and people cheering, but these existed only in theory. Running down the chute, it was just me, that stretch of red carpeting, and the end of a road that had started in January 2014. As I crossed the finish line at about 15:45 and Mike declared me a Ferrous Individual, a close friend and fellow IM official, Ros Popham, stepped in front of the volunteers, put a finishers medal around my neck, and gave me a huge hug. Crossing the finish line was a thrilling experience, but I think that the people I encountered all along the way—Brooke to Liz to Ros and everyone in between—were far more motivating and meaningful.

Craig: What have been some of your most favourite destination races?

Ian: A few years ago, I spent Hogmanay (New Year’s Eve) in Edinburgh with my son. I knew that he would be dead to the world New Year’s Day, and so, on a lark, I registered for a sprint race that morning: eight lengths of the pool used for the Commonwealth Games, three laps around Arthur’s Seat on the bike (a huge hill where if you’re not climbing or dropping like a rock, you’re on the quarter-mile stretch of flat ground with the North Sea wind blasting in your face), and finally one lap around Arthur’s Seat on the run (refer to my previous parenthetical explanation). It was 39 degrees at best, but the people were warm and friendly. It was a great time, and I highly recommend it to anyone. In California, I’ve come to enjoy the Vineman races in Sonoma. I have done all their distances except the full. The Monte Rio Olympic (early June) is a dynamite event. The river swim is a unique challenge, the cycling is gorgeous, and the run for the Olympic is mostly through redwood forest. For me, it’s a relaxing weekend of hiking, wine tasting, and oh-by-the-way a race. I live in hope of the Vineman half being resurrected.

Craig: What did it mean to you to be selected to be on the TCSD Ambassador Team?

Ian: Being part of the TCSD Ambassador Team in 2014 and 2015 was a great opportunity for me in a couple ways. First, I love this organisation. I know that some folks have complaints, some entirely accurate critiques and some just petty whining, but in the long view we are beyond fortunate. The ability to train, race, and socialise with people in TCSD is something that cannot be replicated elsewhere. Being a referee has shown me enough of tri clubs to know that, even at its worst, TCSD is well and truly the best tri club on the planet. Being able to represent the Club at events and races gave me the opportunity to give back in a small way. At the same time, it gave me the opportunity to understand the Club a bit better, to see how it works, who was involved in making it all happen.

Craig: Who has been the most influential person in your triathlon career?

Ian: It is difficult to identify a single person, because there has yet to be an encounter that has not influenced me somehow. JJ certainly turned me into a swimmer, which is a gift beyond comparison. Sandi Johnson, a former Club member, was an integral part of me getting back into racing and understanding the race of life and to her I am forever indebted. I realised how to be a partner, encouraging someone else’s development while also fulfilling my own goals. Brooke Skora laid down challenge after challenge and was there to meet them all. Liz’s tenacity despite Sacramento heat, family, work, and school daily inspires me to stop my own whining and get on with training. Beyond these ‘most influential’ people, I continue to rely on Steve Tally’s sense of humour and down to earth approach to racing. The Thursday BOWS crew and swimmers never cease to amaze and inspire me. Bob Babbitt’s exceptional knowledge and ability to talk with the very elite at TCSD meetings regularly astonishes me. Where do I stop?!

Craig: What do you do for a living?

Ian: I am currently a Supervising Hearing Officer the State of California’s Department of Social Services. We have a contract with the Social Security Administration to hear the appeals of individuals who have been notified that their federal disability benefits will be stopped. I have the best staff of administrative hearing officers in the State, which means they spend a lot of time making me look good. I enjoy the legal research I get to do in support of my staff, the teaching opportunities, and ensuring that, above all, we do the right thing.

Craig: Who has been the most influential person in your career?

Ian: There are lots of ways to view a ‘career.’ We’ve already talked about my racing ‘career.’ From a vocational perspective, there was a group of 17 Administrative Law Judges who apparently saw something in this kid who informally represented the State, and took me on as their project. They held my feet to the fire when necessary, and gently explained, taught, nudged me to the point that I can now do the same for my staff and bring out the best in them. More broadly speaking, my post-graduate advisor Andrew Mackillop was more than I might have hoped for. I had a very specific topic in mind. He handed me a short reading list and asked for a brief assessment. The readings made me realise how many assumptions I had made, and his response to the assessment (‘nice start…flesh it out to 5000 words and get back to me’) put me on notice that I was in for more than I bargained for. I am quite convinced that my PhD has nothing to do with intellectual power, but is merely an indication of unusual patience.

Craig: If you could waive a magic wand over the sport of triathlon, what would you change?

Ian: I think I would make it so that athletes had to learn to race while they train to swim, bike, and run. They willingly excuse patent errors by saying ‘I do it that way at all my races.’ If a coach said to fix some aspect of their running gait, they would do it. How is that different from letting them know that taking up 6-feet of rack space is wrong?

Craig: What are your future triathlon goals?

Ian: I have three triathlon goals just now. First, I want to continue to shave time off my races, showing at least incremental improvement. Second, I want to find a great destination race. The distance is not important, though Olympic is by far my favourite, but I’d like to go somewhere that has a challenging swim, a beautiful bike course, and an easy run. Finally, I want to complete a book that I’ve just started. It is intended to be down to earth recommendations for those who are new to triathlon. There are lots of books from a technical point of view, how to pick up speed on the bike, or whatever. This is designed to be more basic and practical, like ‘don’t get naked in transition.’

Craig: Ian, I waited way too long to interview you.  This was a lot of fun!  I really admire your perspectives.  Thank you for all you do for the TCSD and beyond.  We are lucky to have you on our team.

Craig Zelent is a USA Triathlon Level 1 Certified Coach.  Craig can be reached at 760-214-0055 or

Posted in 2017, TCSD Conversation, Triathlon | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Glen Ellyn Freedom Four Mile Race

Craig and Mom

Craig and Kent Yohe

On July 4th I ran the Glen Ellyn Freedom Four Mile Race in my hometown of Glen Ellyn, IL.  I have had a lot of practice on this course as this was the 16th time I’ve done this race.  I gave it my best effort as I finished in 24:08.  My 2016 time was 23:00 so I’m thinking my blood donation from 8 days earlier played a role in my 2017 time.  I also heard the 2017 course was a bit longer.  Either that or the wheels are falling off!  I did manage to win the men’s 50-59 age group as I was 1st out of 70.  I was 17th out of 943 overall finishers.

I did get chicked 2x and I’m not ashamed of this at all.  Katelynne Hart cruised for 1st place female in 23:04 and Lindsey Payne was 2nd in 23:43.  Lindsey did the 2016 race in 22:28 so maybe everyone was slower in 2017?  I later learned Katelynne and Lindsay went 1-2 for my alma mater Glenbard West High School in the Illinois High School State Championships for 3200 meters.  And Katelynne also won state for 1600 meters.  Katelynne was a freshman and she did all that!  Katelynne’s mile personal best is 4:27.  Holy cow!

And speaking of fast women.  At the same time I was racing in Glen Ellyn, my wife Laurie was racing the Foot Traffic Flat Marathon in Portland, OR.  This was Laurie’s 242nd marathon finish.  Laurie had another of her great races as she won her age group to complete the sweep for our family.

The racing was great fun, but the highlight of the trip was hanging out with my Mom for 4 days.  Mom is 96 and doing well.  She had been hospitalized in February so we are extremely thankful that she has been back in her apartment since the end of April.  I am so lucky to have her in my life!  And I also was able to spend some great time with my sisters Cindy and Debbie and their families.  Running with those fast high school girls was fun, but I’m really glad the most important women in my life are past the high school years.

And there’s more – I was able to visit with my friends Paul Winans, Bruce McNair, Jim Brenner, Chuck Carey and Kent Yohe.  I’m the richest guy in the world to have such a loving family and great friends.  God has really blessed me…even if I can’t out run a couple of high school girls!

Living the life…

Posted in 2017, Running Race | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments